Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Carter: looks like it, and smells like it....

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
Peanut Farmer Jimmy Carter

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has refused to meet former US PresidentJimmy Carter in an upcoming visit to Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Gaza due to his anti-Israeli views...

A senior diplomatic source told the news agency that Carter, who has a long history of antagonism towards Israel, is "permanently damaging" to Israel and that Israel's leaders should refrain from meeting with him, on principle. 

Rivlin's advisors have said the same. 

In May 2014, the former President supported the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) unilateral push to join international organizations in breach of the ongoing peace talks with Israel and the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The year before, he called on the European Union (EU) to label products coming from "illegal Israeli settlements" - despite the fact that Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria is legal under international law.

In 2006, Carter wrote a book entitled "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." His claims in the book, which he continued to espouse even after factual errors were revealed, led the reporting accuracy group CAMERA to say that the ex-president “clearly has an Israel, and even a Jewish problem.”

The United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions

Uncle Sam appears to have lost the courage of his convictions....

From The Washington Post, 17 April 2015, by Natan Sharansky, human rights activist, former political prisoner in the Soviet Union, and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel:

...If Iran wishes to be treated as a normal state, ...then it should start acting like one. 

...The Obama administration apparently believes that only after a nuclear agreement is signed can the free world expect Iran to stop its attempts at regional domination, improve its human rights record and, in general, behave like the civilized state it hopes the world will recognize it to be.

As a former Soviet dissident, I cannot help but compare this approach to that of the United States during its decades-long negotiations with the Soviet Union, which at the time was a global superpower and a existential threat to the free world. The differences are striking and revealing.

For starters, consider that the Soviet regime felt obliged to make its first ideological concession simply to enter into negotiations with the United States about economic cooperation. At the end of the 1950s, Moscow abandoned its doctrine of fomenting a worldwide communist revolution and adopted in its place a credo of peaceful coexistence between communism and capitalism. The Soviet leadership paid a high price for this concession, both internally — in the form of millions of citizens, like me, who had been obliged to study Marxism and Leninism as the truth and now found their partial abandonment confusing — and internationally, in their relations with the Chinese and other dogmatic communists who viewed the change as a betrayal. Nevertheless, the Soviet government understood that it had no other way to get what it needed from the United States.

Imagine what would have happened if instead, after completing a round of negotiations over disarmament, the Soviet Union had declared that its right to expand communism across the continent was not up for discussion. This would have spelled the end of the talks.

Yet today, Iran feels no need to tone down its rhetoric calling for the death of America and wiping Israel off the map. 

Of course, changes in rhetoric did not change the Soviet Union’s policy, which included sending missiles to Cuba, tanks to Prague and armies to Afghanistan. But each time, such aggression caused a serious crisis in relations between Moscow and Washington, influencing the atmosphere and results of negotiations between them. So, for example, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan shortly after the SALT II agreement had been signed, the United States quickly abandoned the deal and accompanying discussions. 

Today, by contrast, apparently no amount of belligerence on Iran’s part can convince the free world that Tehran has disqualified itself from the negotiations or the benefits being offered therein. Over the past month alone, as nuclear discussions continued apace, we watched Iran’s proxy terror group, Hezbollah, transform into a full-blown army on Israel’s northern border, and we saw Tehran continue to impose its rule on other countries, adding Yemen to the list of those under its control.

Then there is the question of human rights. When American negotiations with the Soviets reached the issue of trade, and in particular the lifting of sanctions and the conferring of most-favored-nation status on the Soviet Union, the Senate, led by Democrat Henry Jackson, insisted on linking economic normalization to Moscow’s allowing freedom of emigration. By the next year, when the Helsinki agreement was signed, the White House had joined Congress in making the Soviets’ treatment of dissidents a central issue in nearly every negotiation.

Iran’s dismal human rights record, by contrast, has gone entirely unmentioned in the recent negotiations. Sadly, America’s reticence is familiar: In 2009, in response to the democratic uprisings that mobilized so many Iranian citizens, President Obama declared that engaging the theocratic regime would take priority over changing it.

Reality is complicated, and the use of historical analogies is always somewhat limited. But even this superficial comparison shows that what the United States saw fit to demand back then from the most powerful and dangerous competitor it had ever known is now considered beyond the pale in its dealings with Iran.

Why the dramatic shift? One could suggest a simple answer: Today there is something the United States wants badly from Iran, leaving Washington and its allies with little bargaining power to demand additional concessions. Yet in fact Iran has at least as many reasons to hope for a deal. For Tehran, the lifting of sanctions could spell the difference between bankruptcy and becoming a regional economic superpower, and in slowing down its arms race it could avoid a military attack.

I  am afraid that the real reason for the U.S. stance is not its assessment, however incorrect, of the two sides’ respective interests but rather a tragic loss of moral self-confidence. While negotiating with the Soviet Union, U.S. administrations of all stripes felt certain of the moral superiority of their political system over the Soviet one. They felt they were speaking in the name of their people and the free world as a whole, while the leaders of the Soviet regime could speak for no one but themselves and the declining number of true believers still loyal to their ideology. 

But in today’s postmodern world, when asserting the superiority of liberal democracy over other regimes seems like the quaint relic of a colonialist past, even the United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions

We have yet to see the full consequences of this moral diffidence, but one thing is clear: The loss of America’s self-assured global leadership threatens not only the United States and Israel but also the people of Iran and a growing number of others living under Tehran’s increasingly emboldened rule. Although the hour is growing late, there is still time to change course — before the effects grow more catastrophic still.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Israel Joins New Asia Bank despite US reservations

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 295, April 16, 2015, by Dr. Alon Levkowitz*:

(Photo Credit: Prime Minister’s Office/ Amos Ben Gershom)

The Israeli government’s decision to apply to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite Washington’s displeasure, is an expression of Israel’s strong interest in increasing its economic engagement in Asia.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his capacity as minister of finance, signed a letter of application to join the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) on March 31, despite Washington’s displeasure. Fully aware of Washington’s failed attempt to convince its allies not to join the AIIB, the decision to apply demonstrates Israel’s understanding of the rising importance of Asia, especially China, to Israel’s economy.

The new bank is viewed by many as an important indicator of the changing economic and global balance of power, appearing as a threat to the World Bank. The decision to join the AIIB is another phase in Israel’s policy to improve relations with Asia. Additional moves include negotiating free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.

Does the AIIB symbolize a global financial shift towards China? Is it yet another indication of the gradual decline of the United States in Asia and the global arena?

...Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the plans for the AIIB in a speech to the Indonesian parliament in 2013. The bank looks to invest about $100 billion in infrastructure projects in Asia in contrast to the World Bank, which has a global, not regional focus. Another difference between the two banks is the amount that they would invest in Asia.  While the WB total work program funding for 2015 in Asia is $172 million, the AIIB intends to invest more than $800 million in Asia in 2015.

The AIIB will boost China’s role in the global economy beyond what is currently reflected in the voting mechanisms of the IMF and World Bank. It will also allow China to enhance its soft power in Asia. The AIIB might, as suggested by Washington, have transparency and technical problems, but the fundamental issue for the Americans is that it challenges its global hegemonic position.

Washington’s allies, mainly in Asia, were faced with a dilemma: to join or follow Washington’s recommendation not to. While the United States is undoubtedly an important ally for many countries, China’s importance as a major trading partner and ally also carries substantial weight.

For example, South Korea found itself in a dilemma, stuck between Washington’s request to abstain from joining the AIIB and to deploy the American Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. On the other hand, Beijing asked Seoul to join the AIIB and abstain from deploying THAAD. In the end, Seoul decided to join the AIIB and delay its decision on deploying the sophisticated anti-missile system. One possible reason why Seoul decided to join the Chinese led bank could have been to assist infrastructure projects in North Korea which would decrease Pyongyang’s incentive to initiate military provocations.

Besides South Korea, many other US allies decided to join the AIIB in spite of Washington’s objections. These include Britain, France, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. Tokyo and Washington are the two main economic powers that have so far decided not to join the new bank. However, based on Washington’s past record of opposing Asian regional initiatives at the beginning, only to later reverse its decision, it is likely that Washington and even Tokyo will also join in the long run.

The AIIB is another indication of China’s growing economic growth and willingness to challenge American power on the world stage.  And although Washington and Beijing do not see eye to eye on political, security, and economic issues, both states are economically interdependent, which could serve to constrain their rivalry over the balance of power in Asia.

The Israeli government’s decision to apply to the AIIB, despite Washington’s reticence, shows that it understands that it cannot afford to be left out of Asia’s economic rise. Once its application is approved, Israel will be able to initiate projects in Asia through the AIIB and assist Israeli companies in the process, thus increasing its relations in Asia.

*Dr. Alon Levkowitz, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is an expert on East Asian security, the Korean Peninsula, and Asian international organizations.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

Anti-Israel boycotters, including NIF-funded NGOs, lose legal appeal in Israel

Israel's High Court of Justice largely rejected an appeal against a law which limits Israelis’ ability to call for boycotts of West Bank settlements.

The 2011 law does not make a boycott a criminal offense, but allows plaintiffs to file a civil lawsuit demanding compensation from those who call for boycotts.

Defenders of the law said it prohibits discrimination based on geography.

Petitioners against the law and in support of boycotts included:
  • Ta'al - Arab parliament group 
  • Knesset member Ahmad Tibi
  • Supreme Monitoring Committee for Arab Affairs in Israel
  • *Coalition of Women for Peace
  • *Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
  • *Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
  • *HaMoked
  • *Yesh Din
  • *Adalah
  • Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights
  • Israel movement for reform and progressive Judaism 

* = NGO funded by the New Israel Fund

A panel of nine judges determined that the law was mostly on solid ground. Only one, important, clause was rejected: a section stipulating that courts may order unlimited sums in compensation to plaintiffs without proof of damages.

While Justice Hanan Meltzer, who wrote the majority opinion, agreed that the law limited free speech, he asserted that the limitation was in this case proportionate as boycotts were, in general, an undesired measure.

Meltzer said the only clause which could disproportionately limit free speech was the one the court elected to annul.

...The ruling came against a backdrop of an international boycott campaign against Israel.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who initiated the law, said the aim was to prevent discrimination against people based on where they lived. He said Israel has to defend itself against those aiming to harm it.